The heartbeat of family life

My maternal grandfather died this week after a long (91 years old), loving, and healthy life. He lived in Alberta, Canada where most of my maternal family lives and I am not attending his memorial celebration, which is today.

This is one of the costs of living far from family. I have gotten used to it over the years, but in times of crisis in never feels completely right. Even though all your reasons for living far from family were "right" decisions at the time.

If I let it, the guilt creeps in that I "should" live closer for times like this. I "should" live closer to a metropolitan area with an airport (flying anywhere from where I live is an ordeal). I "should" have more money in the bank which makes obstacles irrelevant.

But I do the best I can with what I have, which are words for a eulogy and Skype to connect with distant family. 

Even that I barely had time for during an especially busy week of family life. You don't plan for your grandfather's death and when it does happen so far away it doesn't directly impact your daily doings and so the show goes on. While you - granddaughter, daughter, wife, mother, sister – are, in your imagination at least, the central spoke of the wheel. 

This web of family life that is often beautiful but sometimes hard, can feel taut with the tension of what is and what I wish could be. 

Beautiful and hard have been themes in my world for the past couple weeks. I see these two ideas juxtaposed each other everywhere I look and in what I read. 

I'm at home today. All by myself. 

My extended family is celebrating my grandfather's life and my heart is there. My family, Damien and the kids, are in another province competing in their first Taekwondo competition. I got an e-mail this morning about the medals the kids have already won. 

We planned for me to stay home today, while the family traveled for this competition, even before the news of my Grandpa's death. It is Brienne's 11th birthday party tomorrow afternoon. Her first friend birthday party since moving here two years ago. She is so excited. I have work to do to get ready for that. 

See what I mean about beautiful and hard? About the tension of family life, and the position we mothers find ourselves in – the central spoke of the wheel.

I am home so I can get party stuff ready. I want to bless my sparkly girl with special decorations and twinkly lights. We will be busy enough tomorrow morning baking cupcakes together and preparing the fairy crafts. Some of the preparation must be done today.

I am home today, alone, because I needed some quiet from the intensity of our family life this season. Intensity that the kids love and seem to thrive on. They are at that age. Slow childhoods give way to active teenage years, it's as it should be.  

I needed a break. Even if that break meant washing floors and hanging pretty lights.

It just so happens that right now my heart is stretched clear across the country. 

One part of me is on the Alberta prairies, where my cousins are messaging each other, planning what song to sing together this afternoon at Grandpa's memorial. We are a musical family and I long to be able to raise my voice together with theirs in a song of joy, thanksgiving, and remembrance for my grandfather's life and legacy, which was his faith in Christ.

Another part of me is in the woods of New Brunswick where my children are right now competing and my husband watches and dishes out breakfast, lunch, the many snacks and nutritious treats I packed yesterday to keep everyone fueled and healthy for a day of physical activity.

I will have the woodstove going when my family returns later tonight. We will celebrate Brienne tomorrow and I am preparing for that today. Enjoying the perfect quiet of a November snow. And I am crying because my family is gathered and I am not. 

And I am here at home. Not as forlorn as you might imagine, because it's really ok to feel the true heartbeat of family life – its joy and sorrows – together. Two sides of the same coin.

What I feel today is the deep appreciation for no noise. None. Even the outdoors is a quiet blanket of fresh snow. 

I am giddy with excitement at washing the floors and having them remain perfectly clean for about twelve hours or so. 

And only a parent knows the relief I feel at not needing to cook anything for anyone or answer the questions, “when are we eating? And what's for supper?”

I am happy for Brienne's anticipation of her birthday party and so very grateful that she has friends to share this celebration with.

Today I am sad that I can't be with my mom and her family, my aunts, uncles, cousins, as they celebrate my grandfather's life; as they give honor and glory to God for my grandfather's legacy – which was to give all honor and glory to God in everything he did and in his very person. 

It's ok to cry and clean at the same time. To hold in my heart all these people who mean so very much to me. To celebrate birthdays and victories while mourning the loss of my grandfather and the pain at not being with my family today. 

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  • Barbara Tougas

    Barbara Tougas on Nov. 23, 2013, 7:06 p.m.

    I can feel your pain, Renee and share it with you. I have lost two very special men, and still grieve for them. And I know the pain of separation from family and missing all those 'special events' like birthdays, and family celebrations. Even when you live close to family, it can happen that you miss some of those family celebrations. Know that the pain and separation can make you a stronger, more resilient person, can give you a new perspective on who you are and what you want and need in your life. It's a time of reassessment, a time to stop and count your blessings and appreciate everything and everyone that is here and now. Because... Time Changes Everything and Everyone. Nothing stays the same. Most often we don't like change, but it happens anyway whether we like it or not, that's just life. It's part of our growth the changing seasons.

    Believe it not, your Grandfather lives in you. You carry a piece of him in who you are. Some of the things you do and  say are things he would do or say and when that happens, you immediately recognize it and think of him. When that happens, honour him by thinking of him and then thank him for giving you that gift. He will hear you! So glad to hear that you took part in creating the Eulogy. Believe that you were there in spirit to grieve with the rest, in your creation of the Eulogy. You left a part of you with your family in doing that. You spoke to them and your Grandfather, when they read the Eulogy. You were there.

    Love MOM Tougas


  • Sarah Mast

    Sarah Mast on Nov. 23, 2013, 7:11 p.m.

    So sorry to hear of your loss, Renee. It sounds like you were very close to him, learned from him, and loved and respected him. I always have two tug of war feelings when I've lost others close to me: joy, that they are with the Lord, and unfairness, grief, that I can't be near them until we meet again. I pray that you would feel comfort and peace in your silent day. 

    Sarah M


  • Sandi

    Sandi on Nov. 23, 2013, 7:21 p.m.

    I am so sorry, Renee. These are such beautiful words expressing the mix of grief and gratitude. Grief mixed with gratitude has become an ever present companion for me over the last 11 years. I often cry while I clean is cleansing on so many levels. My prayers are with you and your family right now. 

    Congrats to your kids on their medals! We recently competed and my kiddos so enjoyed it. First tournament for my 5 yr old. 

    Happy Birthday to your daughter....sounds like a wonderful day ahead for her.


  • Kristy Gonyer

    Kristy Gonyer on Nov. 23, 2013, 8:10 p.m.

    I am so sorry to hear about your loss... I can completely sympathize with how hard it is to be so far away from family, especially during times of loss or celebration. We are keeping you and your family in our thoughts!  


  • Stephanie Stevens

    Stephanie Stevens on Nov. 23, 2013, 8:32 p.m.

    I am so sorry for your loss, and I can identify with absolutely everything you wrote here.  We had a rather traumatic, sudden relocation this summer and the following week my grandmother (last living grandparent) died.  There was no way I could attend the funeral.  Actually several years ago my husband made my dream come true and we traveled 3 days  each way to visit her, because we knew that we would not be able to be with her at the end of her life, most likely.  Such a gift.  But even though I had that, and her death was not unexpected, I found myself with a lot of grief.  The other traumas in our life at that point compounded it for sure.  I absolutely understand your feelings...right down to the mopped floor and no one needing meals! :) 


  • Kika

    Kika on Nov. 23, 2013, 9:10 p.m.

    I am sorry for your loss and thankful that your grandpa lived a long life well-lived. 

    We laid my dad's ashes atop my mom's coffin yesterday. I have found it difficult to continue to feed kids, do laundry, etc. while I am so filled with anguish-cleaning does not feel therapeutic to me.  I am so thankful for the new babies and preschoolers in our family who bring so much joy in the midst of heartache. 

    I am sure you've heard that the roads here, in AB, have been dangerous this last week so many people in this province missed my dad's funeral. I have missed a couple in the past due to super icy roads. Never easy. 



  • Dianna

    Dianna on Nov. 24, 2013, 2:59 a.m.

    Thank you for sharing with us as you always do. I will hold you close in my heart and in my prayers.  It hurts so much to lose someone you love, and it hurts more when you are unable to physically be with your loved ones during the healing time.  Crying and cleaning is healthy and healing.  Your memories of your grandfather will help you during this time of healing.  Knowing that you have many people who care about you and are sending prayers will also help I think.  In peace, Dianna


  • Alexis

    Alexis on Nov. 24, 2013, 4:23 a.m.

    I'm so sorry to hear of your loss! I too know how difficult it is to be separated from loved ones....across oceans....missing out on the joy (weddings and births) and on the pain (sickness and death). Of which, I am partaking in both this week (and by partaking, I mean missing out on). It can be so incredibly painful at times but at least I (and you) have the assurance that God has us where He wants and He knows best. 


  • Marianna

    Marianna on Nov. 24, 2013, 4:32 a.m.


    I am sorry for your loss. You are in my prayers. I, too, know how difficult it is to be far from family, both for joy and sorrow. It hurts. Your mother in law's words above are perfect and oh, so true. Blessings. 


  • Carolyn

    Carolyn on Nov. 24, 2013, 10:06 a.m.

    Sorry for ur loss,hope ur daughter has a happy birthday,and congrats to ur family on the medals they won 


  • Rana

    Rana on Nov. 24, 2013, 4:51 p.m.

    So sorry to hear of your Grandpa's passing.  We will keep your family in our prayers.  I was here this time last month when my Grandmother passed away.  Just know that even though some days it feels like it, you are not alone. 


  • Maria Cordner

    Maria Cordner on Nov. 24, 2013, 10:50 p.m.

    I am sorry for your loss!...I know some of these feelings of needing a brake and feeling the solitude. Crying while cleaning floors can be done more freely when you are by yourself tough! I hope you'll feel the comfort of the memories shared with your loved one. You'll be in my prayers today.


  • Lori

    Lori on Nov. 25, 2013, 12:04 a.m.

    I am sorry for your loss, Renee. 

    I also missed my grandfather's funeral because I was pregnant and considered too high risk to travel by air.  I was the only family member not in attendance.  My husband took my place with the other cousins as they honored him at church.  It was a lonely time for me, so I really do feel for you. 

    Enjoy your celebration of your daughter tomorrow. 


  • Lisa

    Lisa on Nov. 25, 2013, 4:18 a.m.


    May God bless your Grandpa and give him a high station in Paradise. May the remembrance of him be a reminder, a thought that guides, an inspiration. The hearts of believers meet during the day, even if physically far away. May God Almighty give you the strength you need. And the love.



  • Jennifer Sinclair

    Jennifer Sinclair on Nov. 25, 2013, 9:09 a.m.

    When I see the photos of your family, I am so impressed with what you do, raising your kids, connecting to your family. Bless you for sharing it all. 


  • Laura

    Laura on Nov. 25, 2013, 1:06 p.m.

    Renee, I am sorry for the loss of your grandpa. My last two grandparents passed away this year. Grandparents surely are a special part of our lives! I enjoyed reading the bits you shared about him. What a treasure that our grandfathers loved God and wanted their lives to be for His glory! My grandpa's life and legacy has been one of the loudest (yet quietest, if that makes sense) sermons to me this year (and I hear at least three sermons a week!). It made me think of my own life and the choices I am making. What will matter in the end? Good, though sometimes hard things to think about. I trust God is giving grace upon grace to you during this time. I'm glad you had some quiet time alone this weekend. I know it was a blessing to you.

    A great big happy birthday to Brienne! I hope she had a very special day!

    As always, Renee, thanks for being real. Such a lovely qualitiy!


  • Mama

    Mama on Nov. 26, 2013, 4:34 a.m.

    My deepest sympathies, Renee. Papa's Gram died this week also. She was a wonderful woman, and a believer. Let us rejoice that they are both with our Lord. Hugs!


  • Dianna

    Dianna on Nov. 26, 2013, 11:02 a.m.

    I'm so sorry to learn of your grandfather's passing, Renee.  Even though he had a long life I know that it still will leave a void in the family for quite some time.  


  • Jenn

    Jenn on Nov. 26, 2013, 7:09 p.m.

    So sorry for your loss. You and your family are in my thoughts and prayers. Although you may not be able to raise your voice in song with family honoring your grandfather, thank you for raising your voice in your words here. It is lovely to read and experience life along with you. You are a blessing to many. May the blessings return to you ten-fold in this season.


  • leah

    leah on Nov. 27, 2013, 12:41 p.m.

    Yes! This! My 96 year old grandma passed away in August in another state and like you, I was unable to be with extended family during that time. Sifting through memories and emotions while keeping up with the laughing antics of my toddlers (who my grandma never got to meet in person)...such a blend of joy and sorrow.

    I'm so sorry for the loss of your grandfather, but rejoice with you in a life well-lived!


  • Peter & Sheila

    Peter & Sheila on Dec. 1, 2013, 2:01 p.m.

    Mom Tougas is so right. We too took time out to look at the photographs of the visits we have paid to Alberta over the years. We gave thanks for the priviledge of sharing so much with grandparents, the quiet words of blessing before and after a meal, of joining the community at church on a Sunday, of visiting the farm with a proud grandfather, picking strawberries with you grandmother and standing in fear as she pointed out the reason our pail was not so full was that we had eaten far too many! They are all good memories made better in the knowledge that Eric and Betty are reunited and are probably organising something or other for their friends. Well at least Betty will whilst Eric just goes with the flow!


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